WASHINGTON, DC – New data confirms that Florida remains a hotspot in the national fraud epidemic, warned the National Consumers League today. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s recently-released 2015 Consumer Sentinel Data Book, Florida was the top state for per-capita fraud and identity theft complaints to the FTC in 2014.
Seven of the top 20 metropolitan areas in per capita fraud complaints to the Commission were located in Florida. The Panhandle State also accounted for nine of the top 20 metropolitan areas in per capita identity theft complaints. Thirty-seven percent of Floridians who filed complaints reported a loss. The average amount reported paid was $2,104.
The vulnerability of Floridians to fraud, and particularly identity theft, is exacerbated by the ongoing problem of data breaches. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, nearly 1 in 3 data breach victims will also experience identity fraud. As information on tens of millions of consumers affected by breaches at companies like Target, Home Depot and Anthem continue to fall in to the hands of cybercriminals, it is likely that millions more will suffer from this scam.
“Data breaches regularly expose sensitive personal information about millions of Florida consumers on cybercrime black markets,” said John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy Telecommunications and Fraud at the National Consumers League. “Without reforms in Washington to better protect consumers’ data, high identity theft rates could become the ‘new normal,’ for consumers in Florida and around the country.”
While there is no foolproof way for consumers to protect themselves from identity theft, there are steps they can take that will reduce their risk. Tips to protect your identity include:
- Resist clicking on suspicious links or attachments in emails, text messages or on the Web. These often contain malware that can hijack your computer and steal sensitive personal information like Social Security Numbers, usernames, passwords and dates of birth.
- File your taxes early in the tax season. The FTC identified tax-related identity theft as a top source of identity theft complaints. Scammers file in someone else’s name early in tax season and collect fraudulent returns before the legitimate taxpayer has filed her return. NCL has published a step-by-step guide to spotting and recovering from this fraud.
- Create strong and unique passwords using a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid using common words or names in your password and don’t use the same password across multiple websites. Take advantage of stronger security technology, like multi-factor authentication, particularly on sensitive accounts like email addresses.
- Review your credit reports regularly and report any suspicious activity promptly. Consumers can obtain a copy of their credit reports from all three credit reporting bureaus for free at www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Raise your voice in Washington to demand real data security reform! NCL’s #DataInsecurity Project is calling on Congress make data security a priority in 2015. Consumers can learn more and join the fight by watching this video and visiting www.nclnet.org/datainsecurity.